Lactation Nutrition for Beef Cattle

— Written By Emily Cope
en Español / em Português

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Lactation is often categorized as a stressful and nutritional demanding period for cattle. Cows must lactate, repair their reproductive tracts, resume heat cycles, rebreed, and if young, grow! The summation of these physiological processes put considerable strain on the cow. Early lactation is the first 50 – 100 days post calving, and requires the highest amount of energy intake. Nutrient demands are greatest 60-days post calving. Nutrient requirements rise to meet the demands for milk production. The amount of milk produced is related to the genetic potential of the cow for milk production; however, nutritional management is vital to help her achieve her milk production potential. This point of lactation also coincides with the start of rebreeding for many cattle operations. The level of production will be limited by the availability of forage intake. Nutritional management of the cow herd is critically important during this phase of production. Cow nutrition at calving and early lactation are important because of the effects on subsequent reproductive performance. 

Cows that decrease (Body Condition Score (BCS) < 4.0) body condition during early lactation should regain lost condition before rebreeding. There are a few management strategies that can be incorporated to help thin cows regain lost condition: 

  • Provide additional energy 
    • Try to avoid starch-based feeds that are deficient in protein because those feeds tend to increase milk production rather than body weight gain
    • Provide a high protein, high energy supplement without limiting forage intake 
  • If possible, sort and manage by BCS: thin vs fleshly 
    • Thin cows should gain BCS and fleshly, fat cows should lose BCS 
    • Avoid large swings in BCS
    • Overconditioned cows are wasteful. Fleshly, fat cows can have lower conception rates
    • Increases in condition towards a moderate level BCS (BCS 5) will aid in increased fertility 
    • Prioritize feed resources to young and thin cows
  • Consider early weaning calves from thin, lactating, non-cycling cows
    • Time to regain condition before rebreeding
    • Weaning early drastically reduces nutrient requirements and induces estrus 

Investing in post-calving, lactation nutrition has long term benefits for our cow herds. Nutritional management during lactation sets up for improved reproductive performance and overall cow health.